Today in Black History

The following historical notes were posted to Blues-L on their respective days during Black History Month in February 1998. For more about Blues-L, the e-mail list, click here.

FEBRUARY 1, 1960

Black college students stage a sit-in at a segregated lunch counter in Greensboro, North Carolina, beginning the first of the historic sit-ins of the 1960s.

FEBRUARY 2, 1948

President Truman sent Congress a special message urging adoption of a civil rights program, including a fair employment practices commission and anti-lynching and anti-poll tax measures.

FEBRUARY 3, 1956

Autherine J. Lucy became the first black student at University of Alabama. She was suspended four days later following a riot and expelled on February 29.

FEBRUARY 4, 1913

Rosa Parks was born. The former seamstress sparked the 1955-56 Montgomery (Alabama) bus boycott when she was arrested for refusing to surrender her seat to a white passenger. The year-long boycott led to a U.S. Supreme Court ruling banning segregation on public transit vehicles and gave national prominence to a young Baptist minister named Martin Luther King, Jr.

Parks was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1996. She is 85 years old and lives an active life in Detroit, Michigan.

FEBRUARY 5, 1994

White supremacist Byron de le Beckwith was convicted of the murder of NAACP field secretary Medgar Evers -- three trials and more than 30 years after Evers was assassinated by a sniper in front of his Jackson, Mississippi, home.

FEBRUARY 6, 1820

The first organized emigration of U.S. blacks to Africa began when the "Mayflower of Liberia" sailed from New York City for Sierra Leone with 86 blacks aboard. The ship arrived in Sierra Leone on March 9.

Twenty-two years later, it took a U.S. Supreme Court ruling for 35 former passengers of the "Amistad" to accomplish the same thing.

FEBRUARY 7, 1712

A slave revolt in New York City resulted in the deaths of nine whites. Twenty-one slaves were executed for their parts in the uprising. In 1791, 500,000 slaves rebelled against their French captors in Haiti and took over the country.

FEBRUARY 8, 1968

Three black students -- Samuel Hammond, Delano Middleton, and Henry Smith -- were killed when state troopers fired on demonstrators at South Carolina State University in Orangeburg, South Carolina. Students were protesting segregation policies in Orangeburg, particularly those at a local bowling alley.

FEBRUARY 9, 1995

Dr. Bernard A. Harris, Jr., M.D., became the first black astronaut to walk in space, during space shuttle mission STS-63. He dedicated the event to the achievements of all African-Americans.

FEBRUARY 10, 1957

Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., and other Southern black clergy founded the Atlanta-based Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) to help coordinate civil rights activities in the South. King remained the SCLC's president until his assassination in 1968. King's son, Martin Luther King III, became the SCLC's president on January 15, 1998.

FEBRUARY 11, 1990

Nelson Mandela, former political activist/prisoner and South Africa's current president, was released after 27 years in a South African prison.

FEBRUARY 12, 1909

On the 100th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln's birth, a call for an organizational meeting was issued for what was to become the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). W.E.B. Du Bois was among the NAACP's 60 founders. Today, the membership of the NAACP exceeds 500,000.

FEBRUARY 13, 1920

After his plan to bring Negro teams to the Majors was rejected by commissioner Kennesaw Mountain Landis, Chicago Negro baseball tycoon Andrew "Rube" Foster organized the Negro National League. Eight teams joined in its inaugural season: the Chicago American Giants, Chicago Giants, Cuban Stars, Dayton Marcos, Detroit Stars, Indianapolis ABCs, Kansas City Monarchs, and St. Louis Giants.

FEBRUARY 14, 1867

Less than two years after the Civil War ended, Morehouse College was founded as Augusta Institute in Augusta, Georgia. The college was relocated to Atlanta in 1879 and received its present name in 1913. Morehouse is the nation's only historically black, all-male, four-year liberal arts college. Prominent alumni include Martin Luther King Jr., JET magazine publisher Robert Johnson, two-time Olympic gold medal hurdler Edwin Moses, former Atlanta Mayor Maynard Jackson, filmmaker Spike Lee, and actor Samuel L. Jackson.

FEBRUARY 15, 1961

U.S. and African nationalists disrupted a session of the United Nations to protest the assassination of Patrice Lumumba -- Pan-African leader and first prime minister of the newly independent Congo (formerly the Belgian Congo, now Zaire). Lumumba was kidnapped and killed in January 1961 by opposing political forces (which remain in power today) and presumably by operatives of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency.

Here's a follow-up, just for the record.

I was referring to the Mobutu government as being brought into power following the Lumumba assassination in 1961 (and I'd said they were still in power today). Wrong. Former Zaireian president Mobutu Sese Seko was overthrown last May (and lived in exile in Morocco until his death from prostate cancer last September).

Not only, but Zaire no longer exists. It has been renamed the Democratic Republic of Congo -- in keeping with its very brief post-Belgian, pre-CIA era in 1960-61. The new president is former rebel leader and Lumumba devotee Laurent Kabila. And, of course, since there was no longer any Cold War threat and Mobutu was on his death bed anyway, the CIA didn't put up much of a fight this time.

FEBRUARY 16, 1970

Joe Frazier knocked out Jimmy Ellis in the fifth round to retain his title as the world heavyweight boxing champion. Muhammad Ali was not boxing during this time. He had been stripped of the heavyweight title for refusing to register for the draft and was forced out of boxing until October 1970. Ali regained his title against George Foreman in the "Rumble in the Jungle" at Kinshasa, Zaire (ahem, the Democratic Republic of Congo) in October 1974.

FEBRUARY 17, 1870

Congress passed a resolution readmitting Mississippi to the Union on the condition that it would never change its constitution to disenfranchise blacks. Mississippi was the second state to secede from the Union, in 1861. In 1995, the Mississippi state legislature voted to ratify the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution -- the one abolishing slavery. The amendment had already become law -- in 1865.

FEBRUARY 18, 1688

The first formal protest against slavery by a white organization in English America took place at a monthly meeting of the Germantown (Pennsylvania) Quakers. The very non-violent event became known as the "Germantown Protest." The abolition movement began in earnest more than 100 years later -- in the years following the Revolutionary War.

FEBRUARY 19, 1919

The first (or possibly second) Pan-African Congress, organized by U.S. writer and activist W.E.B. Du Bois, convened at the Grand Hotel in Paris. The congress, composed of 57 delegates from 16 countries and colonies, considered Du Bois' proposals for the liberation of African colonies.

FEBRUARY 20, 1869

Tennessee Governor W.G. Brownlow declared martial law in nine counties because of widespread Ku Klux Klan activity. The Klan was organized as a secret but harmless social club in Pulaski, Tennessee, in December 1865; the anonymity afforded its membership led to the development of the white terrorist organization we know today.

FEBRUARY 21, 1965

Malcolm X was assassinated by two members of the separatist Nation of Islam during a speech at the Audubon Ballroom in Harlem. Malcolm X was born Malcolm Little in Omaha, Nebraska, in 1925. In 1947, while in a New York prison, he was introduced to the radical teachings of Elijah Muhammad and the Nation of Islam and soon espoused their views. In 1964, Malcolm X was suspended by the NOI for his outspokenness and soon split with them. Following a pilgrimage to Mecca, he accepted the Islamic name El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz, and at the time of his death, had begun to develop more moderate, multicultural views.

FEBRUARY 22, 1967

Adam Clayton Powell, Jr., activist and chairman of the House Committee on Education and Labor, was denied his congressional seat pending a financial investigation by the Judiciary Committee. On March 1, the House voted to exclude him from Congress. On April 11, Powell won a special election to fill the vacancy caused by his own exclusion, but refused to take his seat. He was re-elected in November 1968, but again refused to take his seat. In June 1969, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the House had acted unconstitutionally, and Powell finally accepted his seat, but after having lost his committee chairmanship and 22 years of seniority. Powell was not re-elected in 1970. He died in 1972.

FEBRUARY 23, 1965

Constance Baker Motley was elected borough president of Manhattan in New York City, making it the highest elective office held by a black woman in a major U.S. city. In 1938, while a student at Fisk University in Nashville, Baker Motley stole a sign that read "For Colored People Only." She graduated from New York University and Columbia Law School and in the early 1950's, argued 10 civil rights cases before the U.S. Supreme Court, winning nine of them. Baker Motley became the first black woman to argue a case before the Supreme Court. She is now a New York federal judge -- and the first black woman to become a federal judge.

FEBRUARY 24, 1811

Bishop Daniel Alexander Payne, sixth Bishop of the African Methodist Episcopal (A.M.E.) Church and a founder of Ohio's Wilberforce University, was born to free black parents in Charleston, South Carolina. Named for English abolitionist Lord William Wilberforce, Wilberforce University in Xenia, Ohio, was the first black-owned college in the United States. Payne was named the university's president in 1863, becoming the nation's first black college president.

FEBRUARY 25, 1870

Hiram Rhodes Revels of Mississippi was sworn in as the first black U.S. senator and the first black representative in Congress. Revels was elected to fill the office vacated by Jefferson Davis. He served through March 1871, the remainder of Davis' vacated term. The first African-American to serve a full term in the U.S. Senate, Blanche Kelso Bruce (1875-1881), was also from Mississippi.

FEBRUARY 26, 1965

Nineteen-year-old Jimmie Lee Jackson was killed by state troopers at a voting rights demonstration in Marion, Alabama. As a result, the Selma-to-Montgomery march was organized and took place a month later -- when Dr. King led 20,000 marchers 50 miles east from the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, to the state capitol in Montgomery. Five months later, President Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act, and by year's end, more than 250,000 new black voters were registered.

FEBRUARY 27, 1869

John Willis Menard spoke to Congress in defense of his claim to a contested seat representing Louisiana's Second Congressional District, thus becoming the first black to speak to Congress. Congress decided against his claim, as well as the claim of the other contestant. Congressman James A. Garfield said "it was too early to admit a Negro to the U.S. Congress." So, Menard was actually the first black elected to Congress, in 1868, but he was not permitted to serve his term.

FEBRUARY 28, 1778

The Rhode Island General Assembly authorized the enlistment of slaves during the American Revolution. About 200 blacks soon joined the 1st Rhode Island Regiment, the only all-black regiment of the war. In August 1778, they defended Newport during the Battle of Rhode Island.

In 1750, more than 10 percent of Rhode Island's population was black -- the highest concentration of blacks in New England. Rhode Island was the first colony/state to establish a public school for blacks (1773), to outlaw the importation of slaves (1774), and to declare free the children born of slave mothers (1784). Segregation in Rhode Island's public schools was outlawed in 1866, and a law forbidding interracial marriage was repealed in 1881.

FEBRUARY 29, 1940 (a leap year)

Hattie McDaniel became the first black (male or female) to win an Oscar -- for Best Supporting Actress -- for her role as Mammy in "Gone With The Wind." The second black female to win an Oscar was Whoopi Goldberg for her supporting role in "Ghost" -- in 1991. In 1985, "The Color Purple" received Oscar nominations in 10 categories, including Best Picture, Best Actress (Whoopi Goldberg), Best Supporting Actress (Oprah Winfrey and Margaret Avery), and Best Music (Quincy Jones). It didn't win any.


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